Reader Question: How do I ‘find’ the characters in my stories?

A twist on the old saying, “Seeing is believing.”

A recent exchange on Twitter:

A legitimate question. Let’s start off with this point: Writing is, what I call, wrangling magic. We seemingly make something out of nothing… but in actuality, it’s not nothing… because it’s SOMETHING!

As writers, we do everything we can to enable our characters to come to life. Whether it’s questionnaires, biographies, interviews, monologues, anything we can do to engage our characters and immerse ourselves in their lives can help us eventually to hear their voices… and have them lead us into and through the story.

In this regard, we can invert the old saying “seeing is believing” to “believing is seeing.” That is, if we believe our characters exist in their own unique story universe, then we can eventually see them.

I’m reminded of an observation made by the French author Jules Renard:

“The story I am writing exists, written in absolutely perfect fashion, some place, in the air. All I must do is find it, and copy it.”

This belief can be the foundation of everything else involved in the process of creating a story.

The story universe exists. 
The characters exists. 
Their personal histories exist. 
Their interpersonal relationships exist. 
Their intrapersonal dynamics exist.

So there is believing all of that narrative content exists. But there is another aspect to belief in the act of writing.

I happened upon a story at Creative Something hosted by Tanner Christensen (@tannerc). It speaks precisely to this point:

Some years ago Sir Ken Robinson, the author and creative advocate, once told a story of a six year-old girl in school.
The girl was sitting in the back of the classroom drawing when the teacher walked back to her and asked “What are you drawing?” The girl said “I’m drawing a picture of God.” To which the teacher laughed a little and replied: “But nobody knows what God looks like.” And the little girl said “They will in a minute.”

The little girl not only had a belief that God existed. She also believed she could convey her vision of God to others.

Whenever we take on the crafting of a story, we would do well to believe the story exists… its universe, its characters, it entirety.

We would also do well to believe we can bring that story to life in this world.

Seeing is believing? When we write, it’s more like this…

Believing is seeing.

Now, let’s get pragmatic. Here are some exercises you can do to help you ‘find’ your story’s characters:

  • Questionnaire
  • Biography
  • Interview
  • Monologue
  • Sit-Down

These are some of the character development exercises I do with the writers who sign up for my Prep: From Concept to Outline workshop. It’s a 6 week online class I only teach them twice per year and those sessions are coming up soon: May 28 and July 9.

Of course, you can ‘find’ your characters on your own. Start with this: ‘Believing is seeing.’ Then engage your characters and immerse yourself in their lives.

But if you could use a structured class environment with extensive feedback from your writing peers and me, email me for more information in my upcoming Prep workshops.